The Revolt of the Cities
THE government of cities," wrote Bryce in 1893, "is the one conspicuous failure of the United States."1 He might have added that failure in this respect was not confined to the United States; in the last analysis it was the result neither of shortcomings in American democracy nor of any absence of civic pride but of the Industrial Revolution--a western European, not only an American phenomenon. The very novelty of the problem accounted for the failure to solve it.
The growth of cities since the Civil War had been rapid and chaotic. New York grew from two to almost three and one-half million between 1880 and 1900, Chicago from half a million to a million and a half. Cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee doubled in size. Inevitably the amenities of life lagged behind; "the problem in America," as Seth Low put it, "has been to make a great city in a few years out of nothing."2 In meeting this problem everything was sacrificed to speed. Streets went unpaved; garbage and sewage removal were left to accident and time; water supplies were allowed to become polluted; and conditions in slums rapidly sank to appalling depths of human degradation. The correction of these conditions, as Bryce suggested, would be a test of democratic government, all the more demanding because the problem was not merely material but political as well. The fact was that all elements did not have an equal interest in reform; some people, indeed, had a positive stake in perpetuating the evils attacked by reformers. Rising businessmen profited handsomely through utility franchises or construction contracts; most of them, whether they ap____________________